Networking is a skill that's critical for career advancement. While talking to strangers and approaching new people are challenging for most people, those tasks can be especially difficult for introverts.
Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and author of "Poised for Success: Mastering The Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals" (St. Martin's Press, 2011), said that networking can be challenging for introverts because they are often better at listening than they are at making conversation with strangers.
"Introverts tend to do well in smaller, more intimate settings, where they know one or more people," Whitmore told Business News Daily. "They can still be great networkers by listening and being inquisitive." [7 Deadly Sins of Networking]
To help introverts improve their networking skills, Whitmore offered several tips:
- Temper expectations: Introverts shouldn't set unrealistic expectations for how many connections they need to make. Networking isn't a numbers game, and it's more about quality than quantity, Whitmore said.
- Plan ahead: It is important for introverts to prepare for their networking events. Whitmore suggested thinking of some good icebreakers, such as open-ended questions that can spur conversation. For instance, you could ask, "What's your favorite part of your job?"
- Set a departure time: Choosing when you'll leave a networking event ahead of time often makes the situation far less intimidating. Whitmore said that, many times, introverts will get comfortable in the environment quickly and stay longer than they anticipated.
- Use mutual contacts: If there is a specific person you want to meet, find a common connection, to see if they can introduce you. Whitmore said that rather than just approaching someone out of the blue, finding mutual acquaintances helps make a stronger relationship.
- Use your listening skills: Introverts often have a leg up on others at networking events because they are usually such good listeners. Those listening skills often help introverts stand out as people who value others, which can give event attendees more of a reason to remember them, Whitmore said.
- Get personal: Whitmore said that asking multiple questions without ever sharing any information about yourself can make people feel as if they're being interrogated. Conversations should be a two-way street. She advises introverts to share personal information about themselves as a way to help others remember them once the event is over.
- Practice: Introverts who are nervous about networking should challenge themselves with no-risk or low-risk situations. Whitmore encouraged them to drive to an event in a town other than their own, where they won't know anyone, as a way to practice their networking skills. She said this provides them with an opportunity to experiment with new conversations or stories.
- Take baby steps: Not all networking needs to take place at a specific "networking" event. Whitmore advised introverts to take advantage of everyday situations, such as casually socializing with colleagues around the office or inviting a different co-worker to lunch each week.
Originally published on Business News Daily.